Atmosphere And Weather

Characteristics of an Approaching Tornado what to Expect and how to React

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Tornadoes are some of the deadliest forces in nature.  Tornadoes are violent rotating columns of air that extend from a thunderstorm and make contact with the ground. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), although tornadoes mainly occur during the spring and summer months, they can occur at other times during the year.  Tornadoes have been reported in both the fall and even the winter months.  In southern states, tornado season is from March through May.  In northern states, tornadoes are more frequent in the summer months. So, what are the signs of an approaching tornado and what precautions should be taken to protect himself and his family?

Causes of tornadoes

What causes a tornado?  Tornadoes are caused when warm, moist air rises and meets cold air.  The mixing of these two fronts leads to the production of thunderstorms.  Thunderstorms can produce hail, strong winds, and tornadoes.  


Tornadoes can be weak, strong, or violent.  Weak tornadoes account for most tornadoes. They tend to last from 1 to 10 minutes. Strong tornadoes are the second most frequent storms.  They usually last about 20 minutes or long.  Violent tornadoes can last up to 1 hour.  According to Mogil (2003), tornadoes are rated on the Fujita scale.  This scales rates from F0-F5:

EF0:  wind speeds from 65-85 mph with light damage

EF1:  wind speeds from 86-110 mph with moderate damage

EF2:  wind speeds from 111-135 mph with considerable damage

EF3:  wind speeds from 136-165 mph with severe damage

EF4: wind speeds from 166-200 mph with extreme damage

EF5:  wind speeds from 200 mph and greater with intense damage

Signs of Approaching Tornado

The atmosphere changes as a tornado approaches.  Grazulis (2001) states that there are ways to tell when a tornado is a serious possibility. Be sure to watch out for a strong rotation in the cloud base.  Watch for whirling debris on the ground. Hail is often a good indicator of an approaching tornado. Heavy rain followed by dead calm and a loud, continuous roar that sounds similar to a train or jets are good clues that a tornado is imminent.

How to React

There are some things that you can do to stay safe during a tornado.  It is important to be prepared before a storm strikes:

Be sure to have a plan in place.  Have a designed place to be when a tornado strikes whether in a basement, interior room, or hallway.  Make sure that everyone knows what the plan is and practice the plan often.  Since tornadoes can happen at any time throughout the year, it is important to always be prepared.

Have a weather radio that is operated by batteries. It is important to stay informed during the time of an emergency.  Since the electric can and probably will go out, it is best to have a radio that is battery operated.

Stay away from windows.  Injuries can result from debris that comes in through the windows.

Get out of mobile homes and automobiles.  They provide little protection from tornadoes and should be abandoned.  One is safer in a ditch than in either a car or an automobile.

Keep flashlights handy.  They are safer than candles and are a source of light. Make sure they have good batteries.  Although it is hopeful that the electric will not be off for an extended period of time, an electric outage can last for days even weeks. 

Have at least one landline phone.  When the weather is bad, cellphones often stop working while landlines usually maintain service. Cellphone towers can be damaged or even destroyed during a tornado.  It may be some time before they can be repair.  In order to be able to call for assistance or to keep in touch with loved ones, a landline phone is best.

Have a first aid kit and keep it stocked with bandages, Neosporin, and other family medicines. Injuries from falling debris are possible. Minor cuts and scrapes can be taken care of using a simple first aid kit.  More serious injuries will require professional medical attention. 

Tornadoes are destructive.  Each year, hundreds of people are killed as a result of tornadoes.  In order to prevent unnecessary injuries or death, it is important to know the warning signs and to be prepared.


Grazulis, Thomas P. The Tornado:  Natures Ultimate Windstorm. Oklahoma, OK:  University of

Oklahoma Press., 2001.

Mogil, H. Michael. Tornadoes. Stillwater, MN: Voyageur Press., 2003.

More about this author: Lawanda Shieldsl

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